Strategy: Innovation

Remember how cool the Polaroid camera was?

I fondly remember my first – oh how vivid the memories. With each fresh box of ten opportunities, I loaded that behemoth with confidence. Hordes of onlookers marveled at my ability to forego the darkroom, reviewing and enjoying the results of my framing within mere minutes of taking the picture itself. In essence, I held in my hands the future and by extension, I was the future. I had found the coolest thing – the newest, most innovative thing to hit the music photography industry for years. I was maybe nine years old at the time, but I’d say I recall quite confidently that all of my friends were after my camera!

 

So what happened? To where went the magic I’d once held in my hands? My friends all of who gravitated towards me for the machine I had – for what sudden reason had I none?

Long story short – the digital camera robbed me of my friends. Grr. The leather-jacket, slicked-hair, greased-lightning cool technology of the Polaroid didn’t sustain itself. It’s complacency as the most innovative camera at the time was the nail in its own coffin. Yes, it figured it out once. But it didn’t stay on board. Instead, the digital camera saw past the buzz of in-camera chemical processes and took a step in a new direction.

Don’t let that happen to you.

You’ve figured out how to stay afloat – but things are changing faster than ever. The way I see it, all of the technology, start-ups, ideas, consensuses, consumer moods, are drifting towards the artists – people are instinctively shortening the distance between themselves and the actual creators of the content they value. These days, the utility belt of tools you wear as an artist holds batarangs of options. But, these options won’t be the answer forever. In order to avoid becoming another polaroid camera amidst the vacillating unpredictability of the music industry, it’s imperative to be responsive and on the forefront of the doing things differently grind.

You just doubled your social media engagement by implementing an if/then trigger system, which aggregated and reposted fans’ instagram photos to Facebook based on your custom concert hashtag – effectively creating a fan-generating, artist-hosted stream of visual content effortlessly? Ballin’.

 

What’s next?

 

Buzz words are pervasive in the entertainment industry, but chances are if what you’re doing is buzzing too much, it’s not a very stable strategy. Being creative is what got us into this mess; it’s truthfully going to be the only thing keeping us in it.

Amanda Palmer earned over a million dollars on Kickstarter. That’s probably not going to ever happen again and should not be a fundamental goal in your indie-approach model. Instead, take a look at some of the newest services available to you and think about how your following might react. Compile an RSS feed and stay on top of some news sources that you find interesting. Don’t stop learning about new artists, businesses, and ideas. Filling the shoes of those who have succeeded before you is a nearly surefire way to guarantee career stagnancy.

I was devoted to my Polaroid. I showed it to all my followers on the playground. As a fan, I was committed to nurturing a viral spread through social. But if the product ceased to say anything remarkable, my friends would stop listening. You know how this metaphor relates to what you do. Best of luck!

Ya Está.

Thanks to those of you who actually do read these, I had a good time writing this semester (even if my topic of choice lends itself to being a bit vague.) I hope to keep blogging, whether it’s here or on a personal site. Feel free to send me thoughts, si quieres.

Most Cordially,

Kyle Billings

kbillings@berklee.edu

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Strategy: Inbound

Patrick…

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I’ve known this character since high school – he’s been one of my best friends of all time. We’ve been through a lot; we’ve spent entire weeks in beach cottages, occasionally leaving the brightly painted, two-room shack to go mini-golfing dressed as formally as our resources would allow. At one point in high school, we spent an entire day excused from classes with school administration defending our actions in fear of impending suspension and a noticeable blemish on our otherwise faultless school behavioral records. Patrick – like all the best artists – kept me on my toes, entertained me, and made every ounce of my participation in the friendship worth each successive moment of time spent.

(thanks buddy. this one goes out to you)

AHEM! There’s a big lesson to take in here! As an artist, you need to be like my good friend Patrick.

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I’ve said it before. Seth Godin has said it before. We know it by now – you’ve got to be something special! You’ve got to have that charm and that little something that can’t be found anywhere else. Patrick has that. He’s incontrovertibly been and will always be that guy. In addition to his unmistakably characteristic personality, he has yet another integral factor of success. He’s got the right kind of actual, physical, not-even-figurative presence.

Keep in mind; I’m not necessarily saying he was always around. That’s actually a mistake many artists make – overdoing it (Yes, there’s a possibility that posting a link to your latest “Work In Progress” on Soundcloud and urging me to forward it to my entire network more than once in an hour could be considered too much.) In fact, Patrick was usually late to arrive and would consistently get himself lost during group outings – requiring that my friends and I take the time to find him whenever he got distracted and wandered off. Instead, he had presence in that I always knew where to find him, he was always there when I needed him, and he was always wholeheartedly down for whatever adventure happened to be on the agenda for the day.

You see; Patrick remains (to this day) rather conveniently unlicensed and thus legally precluded from operating a motor vehicle. This means that whenever a friend or I wanted to see him, we knew where we could find him – his house.

Here’s where some of the teachings lie. As an artist, you should be just like him; be consistently available, always be energetic and excited for even the most mundane trips to CVS for allergy medication, and bring that characteristic personality only when I come to you – when you know it’s what I know I’m getting myself into.

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In marketing terms, this is called your inbound strategy. It’s to be coordinated with your outbound efforts (which include your overt, publicly promotional actions – more on this some day) to contribute to something called Integrated Marketing Communications, or IMC. Successfully integrated one’s inbound and outbound communications is like giving a body to a voice. It’s means that behind the shouts of publicity, there’s a stable foundation to back it up. It (most concretely) means that when people are looking for your music, your bio, your pictures, for you, they can do so easily. Seeing as we’re all living and breathing the Internet – yup – this pretty much means social media.

You’ll hear from some people these days how important it is to be “on social media.” Some of these will stress how you should be ubiquitous (everywhere) online so people can find you; I don’t really consider that true. You just need to be where you’re expected to be. This depends a lot on your particular situation, but your portfolio of online personas could include anything from an instagram account to a reddit account. I don’t doubt that you have the clarity to know your fans well enough to know where they hang out online!

While you’re racking your brain – here’s a few tips.

Buy the Domain Name Already.

If you haven’t already…

Even if it’s just for posting songs with a nice Ken Burns slideshow of pictures, YouTube is great to be available on.

Do you have a nice e-mail address?

Do your fans use Pinterest? Be on Pinterest.

Learn to use hootsuite.

MySpace integrates well with a lot of other services these days – give it a thought, but it’s not too necessary. 

——–

What you say about yourself isn’t nearly as important as what people say about you. Sometimes it’s a good idea to keep quiet and let the dialogue flow. Although content is king, your posts are mini forums for conversation – not a dumping ground or an obligation.

———

One last thing. Respond to people.

Artist Strategy: Growing Up

Artist Growth

As a musician, I’m familiar with the mindset. Over the years my own musical tastes have shifted, developed, and broadened with the advent of new influences from particular players or entire genres of music. These influences have shaped my creative capabilities into something more eclectic, more expressive, and more-so me. But as artists, we aren’t ever quite satisfied with who we are creatively; there’s always room to grow.

Growth from the perspective of an artist commercially is more complicated. There are a few additional barriers between point A and point B when a musician, or painter, or filmmaker attempts to expand as a service. Without getting into Porters Five Forces, Clustering, or SWOT analyses, we can agree that, generally, making it isn’t as simple as locking oneself away in a shed and repping real book charts until your chops melt.

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One of the most difficult challenges to overcome – the one that most clearly separates professionals and novices in the industry – is the continued expansion of one’s fanbase. The first hundred ‘likes’ may be easy, as they’re often sourced by facebook friends and family out of complicity. The subsequent hundred or two can be earned by playing shows, but the growth regularly stops here. It stops when the same people are coming to your shows and you’ve no more facebook friends to hound. This is the wall that condemned your ska band to high school battle of the bands performances. This is the wall that’s keeping 99% of singer-songwriters off the playlist of my younger sister.

This first few hundred cooperating individuals are what I call an artist’s first sphere of fans – those with whom the artist has personally interacted with in exchange for support. The exponential growth beyond this point and the concept of “blowing up” all come down to an artist’s ability to mobilize these fans to help out. Once the members of an artist’s initial sphere reach out and share to their own personal spheres, that initial hundred becomes a thousand and, with any luck (or talent… right?), more.

Progress-circles

I’m going to ask you to really dig deep to remember this next artist. While he’s phased out of the nation’s musical lexicon since his prime, he’s a perfect example of the difference between Nicki Minaj  and Laybelle.

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His name is Psy and he used to be a pretty big deal.

Psy’s initial following – his fans in South Korea or the savvy goldminers of YouTube who stumbled across his video for Gangnam Style – were quick to relay his work to their own personal networks. His first sphere expanded to a second sphere, which expanded to a third, etc. – outwards to over a billion YouTube views. It helps that his video was optimized for virality, since without something so damn endearing like a round man dancing like a horse it wouldn’t have merited the share in the first place. Nevertheless, from this example we can learn that without something a bit more tangible than a piece of music, it’s quite hard to turn your ‘likes’ into passionate foot-soldiers.

There are no explicit rules to accomplishing this, though there are a few pre-requisites. Firstly, be very sure of what is it you’re trying to say. Be able to say it without needing to take a breath in the middle. One of my favorite examples comes from a songwriter I worked with back in Boston – Dylan Ewen. He said this about his album:

It’s about real life being a bummer, girls that suck, and porn.  I hope you enjoy it.  I really like Bob Dylan.”

Truly beautiful.

From there, you can set out to create something tangible, whether it be a story, a video, a logo, a t-shirt, anything you can achieve. The second imperative is creativity! Keep in mind, when you give someone a cool thing, chances are they want people to know they have it. If it’s something that they can give away without losing their own, they want to be known as the one who found it and the one who gave it away.

It’s something to consider – while a truly great song can be your ticket, sometimes it takes a little something provocative to get things rolling. Be inspired, be creative, and consider how you can add something tangible to what you do.